GWJ Conference Call Episode 140

Conference Call

Prototype, Tiger Woods 10 (Wii), Sims 3, AAA Blockbuster Games, Your Emails and more!

This week Cory Banks is in the captain's seat as he steers the show through the treacherous waters of AAA blockbuster games. Also, Sean Sands uses saucy language to make his point! If you want to submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"PodunkStump" (Ian Dorsch) - 0:37:01
"Los Pistoleros" (Ian Dorsch) - 1:04:27

Comments

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

I suspect a lot of this is due to pressure from the publishers whose product they need to sell but it still isn't consumer friendly at all.

I think that it also stems from the mentality that the games industry is a special case and as such other consumer laws or standards don't apply to them.... hence the whole reselling, license-buying crap some people lap up from publishers' and developers' mouths.

I oversleep and there's a palace coup. I really need to switch to coffee.

Well I have to say that the two Halo games, ODST and Reach, will be huge blockbusters. I'll be in line at midnight for both, and I definitely won't be alone. I just pre-ordered ODST b/c I really enjoy learning more about the halo universe (how many 360 games have a universe with several novels?), and the gameplay which will have a more tactical feel, not to mention the awesome controller.

I guess I just can't understand all the upturned noses in video game communities when it comes to Halo. It's not the video game messiah, but it's a solid game with a decent story, good gameplay mechanics, and 111,000 people playing it online on XBL right now at 2:21 pm EST.

I think a lot of industry commentators and executive gamers, as our illustrious podcast hosts and many GWJers are, seriously over-estimate the appeal of digital distribution and under-estimate the market's attachment to the resale of games. Places like Gamestop weren't built on the backs of people who buy four to six release-day games in a month but on the backs of teenagers, parents, and grandparents. This demographic of buyers is heavily dependent on buying used games on selling new games on renting games and on borrowing games.

I worked in a mid- to lower-income middle school, and the students there were all avid gamers but none of them regularly purchased new games are full price. They traded games regularly, and they rented games every weekend, but few of them had parents whose incomes could support new games at the clip the industry releases them and expects to sell them. It wasn't uncommon to see groups of friends colluding to each buy a different game so that it could be passed around between them. It also wasn't uncommon to see parents who could buy a new game if they were only required to pay the difference between the new game and the trade-in value of their last new game. A digital distribution model that eliminates the ability to sell and trade games would seriously handicap these buyers, and I believe that there are far more of these buyers than there are buyers like we have here with $200 a month game purchasing habits.

The music industry is used as an example of an industry that has largely shifted from physical distribution to digital distribution, but there are key differences between music and games that must be addressed if games are to become digital-only. Primarily, digital distribution allowed for music to be sold in smaller pieces at a lower cost to the consumer. If a buyer's primary interest is in a hit single, he or she was no longer required to pay $12 for a complete CD but instead $0.99 for just that track. This is speculation on my part, I'll admit, but I doubt that music downloads would have been so readily adopted if buyers had not been able to purchase tracks a la carte but had been required to purchase the entire album only.

Secondly, a digital album costs nearly half as much as a physical copy of the same album. Currently, unless there is some sort of fire-sale on a game, digital copies of games cost the same amount as physical copies with none of the advantages. Unless publishers are willing to lower the initial price point for digital games to compensate for the disadvantages of having a product that is exclusive to a single purchaser, the everyday demographics I mentioned before—teenagers, parents, and grandparents—are going to have a much harder time getting on the digital distribution bandwagon.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

Better customer service from the online services? I would absolutely agree on Stardock and Impulse because that's a core company value for them but have you guys tried to deal with Steam support? It is an absolute joke. It takes days to get a response on support tickets sometimes. Certain titles like Silent Hunter IV still don't run properly when first installed from Steam unless you go through a huge rigamaroll workaround that someone in their forums had to come up with. Some titles like ArmA still don't get patches for the Steam versions. Valve says this is the publisher's fault but sorry guys, you control the distribution platform, you absolutely have the power and responsibility to ensure those games are supported as well as the boxed versions that cost the same amount. They also absolutely refuse refunds, even when a game doesn't run on a system that exceeds requirements and the developer has given up on helping you. If you try to ask for a refund, they run behind their EULA and go "See! See! We warned you!" That's no better than GameStop. GameStop's excuse (and it is one I don't accept) is that they won't take back PC games because of piracy. That's not supposed to be a problem on Steam (or at least a lot less of one) so refusing refunds proves what the policy is really about, publishers not taking responsibility for broken product.

I once bought Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts on Steam which they claim will plug in to the retail version of the base game which I have. It also did work for Stylez. It didn't work for me. The games wouldn't see each other and the crossover content was cut off. I talked to THQ, tried to get help in numerous forums and no one could figure it out. I told Valve I wanted a refund so I could buy the retail version and they refused. It was only after raising a huge fuss and threatening to call my credit card company that they agreed to do it "Just this once." This is how they treated a customer who had in excess of $600 worth of purchases on their account and never so much as asked for help once before that day. When I tried to return Crysis Warhead because they didn't reveal the SecuROM activation system present in it ahead of time (even though it was reported the Steam version didn't have it), I was also refused, even though the product was misrepresented.

Don't get me wrong, I love Valve games and overall, I use Steam a lot and think it is a great service. I also agree with Sean that as digital distribution becomes the norm, I think we will see an overall slide in customer service from those companies that don't make it a core value like Stardock. But service is still pretty lousy from most of the major players already and its clear that they are trying to retain the same "no returns under any circumstances" policy that has been used to avoid standing behind your product. I suspect a lot of this is due to pressure from the publishers whose product they need to sell but it still isn't consumer friendly at all.

I've spent approx. 15 hours getting the retail Company of Heroes to work with the Steam version of Opposing Fronts and finally was able to get it working. I know you managed to get a refund but I'll detail how I did it anyway.

First, I had tried to install CoH then OF right away, this obviously didn't work.
I uninstalled OF and tried to uninstall vanilla CoH but got an error about the installer or files missing, etc.
I removed all files in the CoH directories and all OF files in the steam directories
I went into the registry and searched Company of Heroes and deleted every entry that came up
CoH was still showing up in add/remove programs
I installed the windows install cleanup utility (google it) and removed the CoH entry from that program

So now the computer is clean of CoH files and junk, if you haven't installed either product you can disregard above.

I installed vanilla CoH then fully patched it (way too many patches). I joined an online game just to make sure everything there was good. The crazy amount and size of these patches took the bulk of my time.
Fully patching the vanilla product + clean registry seems to be the key
I then downloaded and installed OF through Steam, start it up inside Steam and bam - original CoH maps and OF all available. Don't start the original CoH anymore, the OF version once installed correctly contains all the original content.

I think the most interesting question is what happens to the rental market. Honestly, I don't care much what happens to GameStop's pawn shop model. Not being mean, I just don't particularly care. I can sell used games on eBay just fine. If I had a local place that had good inventory and did rentals, I would for SURE be a customer, but I don't, so my interest in that part of the market is also largely academic.

Demiurge wrote:

I'm not going to defend my rant or anything. If people want to put on Vista, go ahead. Lord knows it feels nice to run a newer operating system. But there are significant reasons to stick with XP for a Boot Camp install and the one I always run with is install space.

Rant's are fun and shouldn't require defense. In all actuality, on a laptop Vista offers nothing over XP when it comes to gaming so if using XP saves your more than 10GB it's clearly the choice to go with. I was just stirring you anyway

rabbit wrote:

I think the most interesting question is what happens to the rental market. Honestly, I don't care much what happens to GameStop's pawn shop model. Not being mean, I just don't particularly care. I can sell used games on eBay just fine. If I had a local place that had good inventory and did rentals, I would for SURE be a customer, but I don't, so my interest in that part of the market is also largely academic.

I mainly worry about it allowing low-income people participate in the culture. Growing up poor, if I didn't have it available to rent for a couple of bucks at the local country store it literally didn't exist for me. Any move that actually excludes people from being able to play games is going to leave the industry culturally bankrupt in 5-10 years. So I worry about used games not being replaced with some alternative that offers games at lower price points. Steam sales seem to fill this niche.

rabbit wrote:

I think the most interesting question is what happens to the rental market. Honestly, I don't care much what happens to GameStop's pawn shop model. Not being mean, I just don't particularly care. I can sell used games on eBay just fine. If I had a local place that had good inventory and did rentals, I would for SURE be a customer, but I don't, so my interest in that part of the market is also largely academic.

I'm willing to bet that rentals, should physical medias die, will work like the old XBL movie rentals used to: you download it, buy it for a pre-set amount of time, and when that time expires you can't play anymore unless you buy it again.

Not exactly the thriving rental industry one would like to imagine, but... well, it's there.

FenixStryk wrote:
rabbit wrote:

I think the most interesting question is what happens to the rental market. Honestly, I don't care much what happens to GameStop's pawn shop model. Not being mean, I just don't particularly care. I can sell used games on eBay just fine. If I had a local place that had good inventory and did rentals, I would for SURE be a customer, but I don't, so my interest in that part of the market is also largely academic.

I'm willing to bet that rentals, should physical medias die, will work like the old XBL movie rentals used to: you download it, buy it for a pre-set amount of time, and when that time expires you can't play anymore unless you buy it again.

Not exactly the thriving rental industry one would like to imagine, but... well, it's there.

That, or, something like a netflix 2-3 at a time model. Pay a monthly fee and then you can have 1,2,3, etc games downloaded and installed from a service. Unistall one to install another. This could probably integrate into something like steam quick and easy. One monthly fee, play whatever you want, instantly. A set limit would also people from D/L'ing the entire library and then disconnecting the computer from the internet and canceling the sub fee. Or they could make the game call home before it runs, requiring internet access.

Duoae wrote:
Parallax Abstraction wrote:

I suspect a lot of this is due to pressure from the publishers whose product they need to sell but it still isn't consumer friendly at all.

I think that it also stems from the mentality that the games industry is a special case and as such other consumer laws or standards don't apply to them.... hence the whole reselling, license-buying crap some people lap up from publishers' and developers' mouths.

It's not the game industry, it's the "software" industry. From Windows to Team Fortress, they all have the ability to use the licenseing issue to limit your ability to do things with the software. Right or wrong, it is some what of a special case (in the law) from other (tangible) consumer items.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

Better customer service from the online services? I would absolutely agree on Stardock and Impulse because that's a core company value for them but have you guys tried to deal with Steam support? It is an absolute joke. It takes days to get a response on support tickets sometimes. Certain titles like Silent Hunter IV still don't run properly when first installed from Steam unless you go through a huge rigamaroll workaround that someone in their forums had to come up with. Some titles like ArmA still don't get patches for the Steam versions. Valve says this is the publisher's fault but sorry guys, you control the distribution platform, you absolutely have the power and responsibility to ensure those games are supported as well as the boxed versions that cost the same amount. They also absolutely refuse refunds, even when a game doesn't run on a system that exceeds requirements and the developer has given up on helping you. If you try to ask for a refund, they run behind their EULA and go "See! See! We warned you!" That's no better than GameStop. GameStop's excuse (and it is one I don't accept) is that they won't take back PC games because of piracy. That's not supposed to be a problem on Steam (or at least a lot less of one) so refusing refunds proves what the policy is really about, publishers not taking responsibility for broken product.

I once bought Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts on Steam which they claim will plug in to the retail version of the base game which I have. It also did work for Stylez. It didn't work for me. The games wouldn't see each other and the crossover content was cut off. I talked to THQ, tried to get help in numerous forums and no one could figure it out. I told Valve I wanted a refund so I could buy the retail version and they refused. It was only after raising a huge fuss and threatening to call my credit card company that they agreed to do it "Just this once." This is how they treated a customer who had in excess of $600 worth of purchases on their account and never so much as asked for help once before that day. When I tried to return Crysis Warhead because they didn't reveal the SecuROM activation system present in it ahead of time (even though it was reported the Steam version didn't have it), I was also refused, even though the product was misrepresented.

Don't get me wrong, I love Valve games and overall, I use Steam a lot and think it is a great service. I also agree with Sean that as digital distribution becomes the norm, I think we will see an overall slide in customer service from those companies that don't make it a core value like Stardock. But service is still pretty lousy from most of the major players already and its clear that they are trying to retain the same "no returns under any circumstances" policy that has been used to avoid standing behind your product. I suspect a lot of this is due to pressure from the publishers whose product they need to sell but it still isn't consumer friendly at all.

Your problem is, as stated by you even, not unique to the online distribution model. Neither Best Buy, Gamestop, Walmart, or anyone else would have given you an "easy refund". All of them have a no-refund on PC (some all platforms) software. We used to be able to get refunds, but then pirates ruined that. Yeah, I remeber how it went down, one chain at a time. CD Burners were the catalyst.

rabbit wrote:

Honestly, I don't care much what happens to GameStop's pawn shop model.

I couldn't agree with you more.

Back in the day, blockbuster used to include one free (in-store) game rentals month with their online (netflix like) rental service. My local shop had plenty of game stock and almost always had a few copies on release day. It was gaming heaven. Sadly that program died and that Blockbuster closed.

To me, the one thing holding back digtal distribution is that fact that I can go to a brick a mortar store, buy the game, and install it, before it would finish downloading. If I could be playing the game in 15 mins, I'd never buy another disk.

Here's a good question. Why can't we return games to Steam? Couldn't they just deactivate your CD key?

I completely agree with what Julian said about The Last Express (which I believe was first brought up by Chris Remo and the guys over at Idle Thumbs). I think we, as fans of adventure games, the level of detail given to open world games nowadays is a sad reminder of the good ol' days.

rabbit wrote:

Honestly, I don't care much what happens to GameStop's pawn shop model.

I don't care about GameStop itself except that most anything that put GameStop out of business would likely also prevent people from trading, borrowing, and selling games on their own. Being able to buy and sell used games on eBay is meaningless if the games themselves can't be re-sold.

Here's a good question. Why can't we return games to Steam? Couldn't they just deactivate your CD key?

They could, but at that point you've still got the data for the game and could easily work around the cd-key authorization. Which is why their return policy is simply that all sales are final.

I'm going to add my penny's worth about Prototype. I was a bit vexed when it was pretty much dismissed in 2 minutes this week, but I am glad to see that Cory is planning to revisit the subject. It is definitely not a perfect game, but it is a good one, and there is a lot to talk about, given the idea behind the game, and absolute lack of morality and the technical decisions in development.

Please guys, give it a go, and give it the time that it deserves. Some people may be saying that it is no good, but our community does not seem to agree, generally speaking.

Wouldn't it be great if Steam will do for L4D2 what Impulse has done for Demigod?

Please Valve, make my 100 hours of L4D into a discount for L4D2!

(waiting for barage of itllneverhappennoob)

I can dream, can't I?

Nightmare wrote:

3) One thing a lot of the AAA titles mentioned in the discussion have in common: sequels. It seems like a lot of the AAA titles are sequels, using the podcasts definition of AAA (reaching beyond gaming, being an "event"). A lot of what I would consider to be AAA titles (Bioshock or Assassin's Creed, for example), really didn't reach beyond the gamer crowd into the mainstream like, say, a GT4 did, because the "masses" did not have any context to draw from. Anyway, just an observation.

But how could you ever reach beyond the gamer for the launch of a game with no basis for the masses to go by? That's asking a non-gamer to take a gamers interest, right? I can't think of a game that had an initial success without having some basis for people to believe in the its legacy/style.

Demiurge wrote:
Here's a good question. Why can't we return games to Steam? Couldn't they just deactivate your CD key?

They could, but at that point you've still got the data for the game and could easily work around the cd-key authorization. Which is why their return policy is simply that all sales are final.

Getting the data isn't a roadblock for even casual piracy. They say all sales are final for the same reason brick and mortar stores do, the publisher isn't going to give them their money back if the game doesn't work, so they can't afford to give it to you when the game doesn't work.

spider_j wrote:

I'm going to add my penny's worth about Prototype. I was a bit vexed when it was pretty much dismissed in 2 minutes this week, but I am glad to see that Cory is planning to revisit the subject.

I would wait to see what he actually has to say. "My opinion has shifted" sounds pretty ominous to me :p

I'm curious as well. I was pretty excited for the game, but I was completely bored two minutes into a gameplay footage video I watched recently--it seemed very repetitive. I'm sure actually playing is more engaging, but...

complexmath wrote:

I'm curious as well. I was pretty excited for the game, but I was completely bored two minutes into a gameplay footage video I watched recently--it seemed very repetitive. I'm sure actually playing is more engaging, but...

For my part I thought it was a lot of violent fun (the best kind of fun), though I still haven't had time to play it much. That damn Left 4 Dead addiction keeps interfering.

Switchbreak wrote:
spider_j wrote:

I'm going to add my penny's worth about Prototype. I was a bit vexed when it was pretty much dismissed in 2 minutes this week, but I am glad to see that Cory is planning to revisit the subject.

I would wait to see what he actually has to say. "My opinion has shifted" sounds pretty ominous to me :p

I'm intrigued either way. My comments on the catch all have been negative for the most part, but I really enjoyed the game despite it's problems. I'm not really sure what happens in the game after the 3 hour point that could turn it from "can't really be bothered" to "I want to burn it", though. If anything, the mechanic clicks in, and the game becomes more fun.

We shall see, I hope.

Demiurge wrote:
Here's a good question. Why can't we return games to Steam? Couldn't they just deactivate your CD key?

They could, but at that point you've still got the data for the game and could easily work around the cd-key authorization. Which is why their return policy is simply that all sales are final.

Doesn't content downloaded through Steam not work if not launched through Steam? I just tried it with several games I bought on Steam (like Runaway) and when you click the EXE, it says "Can't find Steam" if the client isn't running and if the client's running, it can validate the content. To me, it seems as though the piracy excuse isn't a valid once when it comes to the Steam platform so the typical reasoning for not being able to return games doesn't apply. That's why I say this has never been about piracy, it's about publishers being able to release broken games on PC (as it becoming more common) and not having to be fiscally accountable for that.

I like how Corey talks about disk space as this huge deal for what OS is better for gaming, and everyone lauds him like this is some sort of amazing technical speech. I make no claim to Vista's goodness or badness but as an IT guy and a gamer, disk space is one of the cheapest and simplest of resources when it comes to computing. It is hugely more important (and challenging) to produce an OS that manages resources efficiently, handles a multitude of drivers, and can withstand a vast array of hardware possibilities all while maintaining stability.

Techno-savvy people, back me up here, when you first think of operating systems is the first thing you think of disk space?

I really liked Prototype. I liked the movement and I liked the intense fights. I rarely play through a game as fast with as many hours in a few days as I did with prototype. It got ahold of me this weekend and I couldn't get away from playing. Finished it last night and am going back in and running a few of the other missions.

Definitely at least rent it and see if it hits the right buttons for you. IMO, it's far from a bad game. Yeah, the writing is iffy, but I didn't play Crackdown for the story, either.

Dax wrote:

Techno-savvy people, back me up here, when you first think of operating systems is the first thing you think of disk space?

Well, you can get your hands on terabyte SATA drives pretty cheap these days and never worry about space again, but if you're talking about using a laptop, where hard drives are smaller and more expensive, and installing it as a secondary OS, which means that you still want to save the majority of space for your primary OS, space could be a huge concern.

Edit: Geez, that's one giant run-on sentence. Now I'm just baiting wordsmythe.

Also if you're using a 10k RPM drive or SSD space can still be a concern just because of the price per GB on the higher performance drives

Rob - my sister is single - and loose!

mrtomaytohead wrote:
Nightmare wrote:

3) One thing a lot of the AAA titles mentioned in the discussion have in common: sequels. It seems like a lot of the AAA titles are sequels, using the podcasts definition of AAA (reaching beyond gaming, being an "event"). A lot of what I would consider to be AAA titles (Bioshock or Assassin's Creed, for example), really didn't reach beyond the gamer crowd into the mainstream like, say, a GT4 did, because the "masses" did not have any context to draw from. Anyway, just an observation.

But how could you ever reach beyond the gamer for the launch of a game with no basis for the masses to go by? That's asking a non-gamer to take a gamers interest, right? I can't think of a game that had an initial success without having some basis for people to believe in the its legacy/style.

I don't think you can, in general. There are, of course, exceptions, like WiiSports, but I believe those games are the exception rather than the rule. To take an upcoming example, I believe Assassin's Creed 2 has the ability to be a "AAA" title (by the rules defined in the podcast) because of buzz generated by the first one. But without the first one, it might sell millions of copies but is not an "event" title. Of course, the marketing plan from here to release needs to be spot-on for the AAA-ness to be realized.

I can't imagine ever paying 50 dollars for a downloaded game. The most I have paid by far is 20 dollars for Peggle from popcap. (Yeah I know it's cheaper on steam but from popcap I can install it on 5 pc's)

I like to own things not long term rent until technology changes and I can't play it on the new thing. I still have NES games and a NES to play them on. When we are up to windows 10 or whatever my peggle won't work anymore and I will be expected to buy it again. Also how is it violating anything if I borrow my copy of ratchet and clank for the PS3 to a friend ? I don't remember any kind of EULA.